Planners OK comedy club

Published 10:27 pm Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A new restaurant and comedy club will open in downtown Suffolk as soon as possible, its owner says.

Michael Auletta received Planning Commission approval for Fat Cats at Tuesday’s meeting. He’s eager to get started as soon as he gets approval from City Council, which could come as soon as its May 21 meeting.

Open from 4 p.m. to midnight, the restaurant would have live music in the earlier part of the evening with comedy in the later hours. Auletta is a former stand-up comedian, having performed across the country for the last decade while maintaining a home base in Norfolk, his attorney, Whitney Saunders, said during Tuesday’s meeting.

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Saunders said the new business has the potential to inject some life into a block on the verge of a renaissance.

“Vibrant downtowns require a variety of different uses, and this is something we don’t have,” he said.

Auletta recently decided it was time to settle down and decided on the location at 154 W. Washington St. to fulfill his dream of owning a business, Saunders said.

The building has been vacant for a couple of years after a bar called Bullie’s closed, and before that it was A.J. Gator’s. In prior years it had been a jewelry store, Saunders said.

The restaurant will serve tapas as well as full-size entrees, Saunders said. Tickets to comedy shows could be purchased online, at the door or even at the table, if a restaurant patron decides to stay. Food will be served all night long.

Some of the planning commissioners had concerns about security at the business, perhaps remembering a large fight that broke out at Bullie’s in August 2011. Police who responded to the fight reported up to 250 people outside the restaurant, and two people were injured in the melee.

Auletta said after the meeting he is targeting a higher-class clientele. There will be no televisions in the establishment, he said. The dress code will be business casual, he added.

The business will be required to have security cameras.

Neighboring property owner Andy Damiani was at the meeting to endorse the plan.

“Bars and nightclubs are risky-type businesses, but we need to try something new,” he said. “Maybe this will give us the energy we need in downtown. I’m in favor of giving anybody a chance.”

Across the street, Monument Construction is renovating several old retail buildings into 68 loft apartments with business space on the ground floor. Another new restaurant, East Coast Taco Company, recently opened at the other end of the block, and a few established clothing stores remain. But a few buildings remain vacant.